Boris Johnson has refused to rule out resigning as Foreign Secretary if the Government agrees to remain aligned to EU rules and regulations after Brexit.
After a major speech this morning, Johnson was asked if he would guarantee he won’t quit Theresa May’s top team if his post-Brexit vision for the UK was rejected.
Johnson refused to make such a promise, but did offer an olive branch to colleagues who want to see the UK remain close to certain EU rules to help maintain trade.
Johnson’s speech, the first of a range of interventions from Cabinet ministers in the next few weeks, was designed to calm the fears of those opposed to the UK leaving the EU.
When asked if he would make an “offer of solidarity and unity today” and guarantee he would not resign from the Cabinet this year, Johnson replied: “We are all very lucky to serve and I’m certainly one of those.
“I think the point you make about alignment is a very good and a very interesting one.
“It’s all about voluntarism, it’s all about who decides, of course, when it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hairdryers or vacuum cleaners or whatever, it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, as something we elect to do.”
I’ve always been extremely moderate in my language and loving and caring. Boris Johnson
Johnson’s Valentines Day speech had been heavily briefed in advance as an attempt to ‘love bomb’ Remainers who were unhappy with the Government’s Brexit policy.
Johnson claimed Brexit is grounds for “more hope than fear” as he claimed there are three main areas of concern for Remainers: strategic, spiritual and economic.
The Foreign Secretary talked up the UK’s military presence in Europe and security cooperation with the continent to demonstrate that “our commitment to the defence of Europe is unconditional and immoveable.”
On the spiritual argument, Johnson called for “visa-free travel” for Brits across the EU to help maintain the growing tourist trade with the continent.
He added: “We will continue ever more intensively to go on cheapo flights to stag parties in ancient cities, meet interesting people, fall in love, struggle amiably to learn the European languages whose decline has been a paradoxical feature of EU membership.”
Johnson also tried to convince Remainers that leaving the EU would help Brits look further afield than Europe:
“In that sense Brexit is about re-engaging this country with its global identity, and all the energy that can flow from that. And I absolutely refuse to accept the suggestion that it is some unBritish spasm of bad manners. It’s not some great V-sign from the cliffs of Dover.”
In an attempt to expose how little Brits know about the workings of the EU, Johnson challenged the audience of journalists and think-tank supporters at Policy Exchange in Westminster to explain the “Spitzenkandidaten process – which has genuinely delighted the MEPs as much as it has mystified the UK; or the exact relationship between the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, justiciable in Luxembourg, and the European Convention on Human Rights whose court sits in Strasbourg.”
He added: “And that is the point I sometimes make to those who hail me in the street with cheery four letter epithets. At least they know roughly who I am and roughly what I do.”
Johnson also talked up the economic opportunities available to the UK outside the Single Market and Customs Union, making a clear pitch for Britain to diverge significantly from EU rules and regulations - something which could scupper trade talks with Brussels.
We will be able, if we so choose, to fish our own fish, to ban the traffic in live animals, end payments to some of the richest landowners in Britain while supporting the rural economy; and we will be able to cut VAT on domestic fuel and other products.
We can simplify planning, and speed up public procurement, and perhaps we would then be faster in building the homes young people need; and we might decide that it was indeed absolutely necessary for every environmental impact assessment to monitor two life cycles of the snail and build special swimming pools for newts – not all of which they use – but it would at least be our decision.
After the speech, Johnson was asked if he regretted some of the language he had used to attack critics of the Government’s Brexit plan, such as describing Labour as “supine invertebrate protoplasmic jellies” during a debate about the UK’s financial settlement with the EU.
He replied: “I don’t wish to contradict you in anyway but I think I’ve always been extremely moderate in my language and loving and caring.
“That is my intention. I do think sometimes the discourse does become a bit polemical.
“I think it would be much much better if we can all get together and get behind this project and that’s my purpose today. I accept what you say, there’s always a risk of exacerbating things, but actually I think it’s much, much better to reach out, engage and talk to people than hope the problem will go away.”